Dorie L. Griggs

Finding Balance in Life Helps Avoid Professional Burnout

By Dorie L. Griggs
First Published in Southern Newspaper Publishers Association eBulletin
March 20, 2003

Working in journalism is like being a doctor in a hospital emergency room. The work is quick and time-sensitive; it requires skill and a level of disengagement with the unfolding events if one is to be an effective professional. Finding equilibrium or balance in this type of environment is challenging but necessary to avoid professional burn out.

A few years ago I went through a particularly stressful period of my life. So many demands were made on my time and energy, that I became completely drained. I experienced chest pains and other unsettling symptoms of stress. During yet another visit to the pediatrician with one of my children the doctor noticed that I was not well. I will always remember her message to me that day: "If you don't take care of yourself, you won't be around to take care of your children." Her words were like a cold glass of water in the face. She was right, of course, but the way to a healthier lifestyle took time.

I am convinced we can achieve a level of balance between work and personal life. It takes desire and practice. We must first be realistic and set priorities, then set realistic expectations.

Where do you start?

Evaluate your needs versus your wants. We all need food, shelter, and clothing to meet our physical needs. We also need strong relationships to satisfy our mental and emotional needs. The first set of needs is obvious, but in the United States we often short change ourselves in the emotional/mental needs category.

A great first step in learning to balance life responsibilities is reading. Try "The Relaxation Response" and "Beyond the Relaxation Response: The Faith Factor," both by Herbert Benson, M.D. Benson takes a scientific look at the medical benefits of prayer and meditation. He also outlines his method of relaxation and its added health benefits.

The steps outlined by Dr. Benson to illicit the Relaxation Response include:

  • A quiet environment -- a time and place to be still
  • A mental device -- a repeated sound word or phrase.
  • A passive attitude -- don't obsess on "doing it" right
  • A comfortable position

It is amazing how much clearer your perspective becomes when your mind is clear. With a clear mind, you are freed to process the events of the day more effectively. Taking time out to be still, even 10 minutes, actually helps you to be more effective in the rest of your activities for the day. It becomes easier to set and maintain priorities when you think clearly.

Once you learn to take time and be still each day, you need to evaluate your priorities. What is most important in your life? Is there someone you'd like to see but haven't allowed yourself the time to visit? Are you happy with your relationships?

Chart your time for a week or two. See if you are spending time with the people who mean the most to you. If you aren't happy with the answers to any of the questions above, devise a plan to bring your actions in line with your desires.

Finding balance in life is a continuing quest for most of us, and no one way is right for everyone. But, regardless of the method used to achieve balance, it is a very worthwhile endeavor.

For additional resources check with your clergy person, the local bookstore, or the Internet.

  • "The Relaxation Response" by Herbert Benson, MD
  • "Beyond the Relaxation Response" by Herbert Benson, MD
  • "Love, Medicine and Miracles" by Bernie Siegal, MD
The information provided in this column is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health care advice.

Dorie L. Griggs holds a Master of Divinity degree and her ministry is to journalists. Contact her via e-mail:

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